It's Idiomatic

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Christine Ammer, author of more than three dozen reference books, including the new edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms gets to the heart of American English idiomatic phrases.  

Is there an idiom phrase that doesn't make sense to you?  Share your idiom mystery.  



Christine Ammer

Comments [7]

Amy from Manhattan

"Pie in the sky" as used in the Wobblies song isn't anything like "Let them eat cake." It's used to make fun of the idea that workers should be satisfied w/dismal working conditions & inadequate pay, because they'll get their reward in heaven. So what if you can't make enough to feed your family when you're alive--you'll get pie in the sky when you die!

Also, I can't help noticing that 4 out of the 5 1st comments on this segment are not about idioms. Grammar/usage issues are covered on Pat O'Conner's segments on Leonard Lopate's show--this series doesn't deal w/them.

Feb. 19 2013 12:16 PM
Sheila from NY

I believe your guest was amiss in not ascribing the origin of "pie in the sky" to Joe Hill, the famous International Workers of the World (AKA The Wobblies) leader. It is indeed contained in the song that he wrote that you broadcast, but I don't recall the guest mentioning his name or the name of the song, which is called "The Preacher and the Slave".

Feb. 19 2013 12:15 PM
Sara from Brooklyn, NY

I am horrible at idioms. I mix them up, scramble them around. All the time. The worst was when I was giving an interview to a newspaper about a documentary I directed. The interviewer asked what times certain events were going to take place around the screening at Lincoln Center. I said "I'm not sure - there are too many cooks in the pot".

Note - luckily she didn't publish my slip-up.

Feb. 19 2013 12:04 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

One of my favorites, instead of telling someone they're full of s**t, I say: "That's a load of fetid dingos kidneys." That's from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

I also like: "Gusto! Gusto the Body Snatcher! He owes me a favor!" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

I also occasionally use things from Alice in Wonderland ("Off with their heads!") and other books I've read. Lots of good expressions out there, and I like to revive some that have gone out of use.

What I can't stand is when people say: "Between you and I..." It should be: "Between you and me." Direct object, not pronoun.

Also, people need to remember that both words, none and nun, take the singular. We've gotten to the point in the English language when people forget that we do have to have number agree in usage. I think only people who STUDY (NOT speak) more than one language know that nouns and verbs have to agree in number and gender (when applicable). This applies also with the misuse of less v. fewer. Less is singular; fewer is plural.

Feb. 19 2013 11:54 AM
Ben from Canada

One of the most frustrating is when people use "I could care less" to mean that they don't care about something at all. Somehow the double negative of "I couldn't care less" has been found confusing in the daily usage lexicon. But by losing it, the speaker is saying he does in fact care a lot.

Feb. 19 2013 11:21 AM

Lazy reporters/interns who write/say "it is unclear" as a pseudo- antiseptic for really saying "I lifted the story from, and possibly looked up the subject's phone number on and called him -- but he didn't call me back in the three minutes before this story was due."

Feb. 19 2013 10:59 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

'Luck out' always seems to me to mean the opposite of what people generally mean by it; I guess the the 'out' makes it feel like a (favourable) opportunity has been _missed_, when this is not at all what people mean.

In the world of business, 'layoff' used to have a specific meaning, referring to employees thrown out of work but retaining a relationship with the employing person or firm in question such that when there more work to be done they would be re-hired; now it refers to any firing not 'for cause', but the older meaning is wedged firmly in my brain and makes its current usage seem false even by the low standards for business English.

Feb. 19 2013 10:20 AM

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